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Neat Futuristic Predictions in the Science World

USA- Denver, CO | Oct 12 2012 | (23:07:49 - EDT)

If there's one thing we can predict about the future, it's that at least some of the amazing scientific and technological advances envisioned by today's futurists won't actually become a reality, at least not in the expected time frame. After all, in 1932, renowned 20th century British political leader Winston Churchill, who had access to his country's top researchers, predicted that within 50 years, an engine would generate 600 horsepower for hours from a fuel tank the size of a fountain pen, Iceland would be relocated to the tropics, robots would have human-like consciousness, and people would feast on synthetic chicken flesh grown in laboratories.

In fairness, Churchill did get a few things right; he predicted both cellphones and technology the equivalent of Skype through which anyone could "connect up to any room similarly equipped and hear and take part in the conversation as well as if he put his head in through the window" [source: Churchill].

Today's seers may have learned something from Churchill's folly, because they're a bit more careful in substantiating and qualifying their predictions of future wonders. For example, theoretical physicist Michio Kaku, author of the 2011 book "Physics of the Future: How Science Will Shape Human Destiny and Our Daily Lives by the Year 2100," bases his forecast on scientific discoveries -- such as quantum physics and the nature of DNA -- that already have been made, and on prototypes of inventions that already exist in laboratories [source: Kaku].

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And when the World Future Society, a group of scientific and economic forecasters from 80 countries, compiled a recent report envisioning life in 2100, it was careful to characterize its work as a "first light" view of the horizon that might play out very differently, depending upon a host of variables -- including whether humans make wise use of technological advances or foolishly use them in ways that are destructive [source: The Futurist].

Even so, futurists still manage to conjure up visions of mind-boggling scientific and technological advances down the road -- ranging from computers that eclipse human intelligence to factories that use molecular-level assembly to duplicate or create outright any sort of object you might want. Here are five such visions to contemplate.

5: Computers Will be Smarter Than Us and Part of Us

Inventor Ray Kurzweil already has changed our world by figuring out how to enable computers to read printed words, recognize human speech and synthesize music that's indistinguishable from that created by musicians playing real violins and cellos. But that's nothing compared to the future he envisions, in which machines will be able to think and feel as humans do ... except better.

In a 2005 essay, "The Singularity is Near," Kurzweil predicted that by 2045, "non-biological intelligence will match the range and subtlety of human intelligence." From that point on, which futurists call "The Singularity," machines will eclipse the human brain. Not only will machines' escalating computational power and speed eventually enable them to handle information with an ease that humans can only dream of, but scientific advances in understanding how the human brain functions will also enable us to create mathematical models that can simulate human consciousness.

But don't worry about intelligent computers plotting to murder us puny humans, the way cyber-villains HAL 9000 and Skynet did in science fiction movies. A more likely scenario, Kurzweil predicts, is that tiny intelligent "nanobots" will be subtly be integrated into our bodies, enhancing our own abilities. Thus, the human of the future will no longer have to depend solely upon a hunk of wrinkly meat inside his or her skull. Instead, we'll all be part biological creature and part machine [source: Kurzweil].

4: We'll Be Able to Print Transplantable Copies of Human Organs

One of the most exciting future advances in science is 3-D bioprinting -- that is, the use of modified 3-D printers, which stack successive layers of material to create objects, or cells to construct living tissue. Researchers already have printed skin and vertebral disks and transplanted them into animal bodies successfully, but they're still years and possibly decades away from fashioning a complex organ such as a liver, kidney or heart for transplant, using a patient's own cells as raw material.

Nevertheless, Tony Atala, director of the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine, told the Washington Post in 2011 that he envisions transplantation someday following what he calls "the Dell computer model," in which a transplant surgeon will be able to order a complete organ with certain specs, just as he would pick out a hard drive or sound card for the PC on his desk. The biggest challenge, researchers say, is not in making the organ itself, but duplicating the complicated internal network of blood vessels that keeps a body part nourished and oxygenated. Some think a concerted government research effort -- the biological equivalent of the Manhattan Project -- could make it possible in as few as 10 years to print a transplantable human kidney.

But once that's accomplished, what's next may be even more astonishing. As bioprinting software pioneer Vladimir Mironov told the Post: "If one can bioprint functional human organ constructs, then bioprinting a whole human -- or whatever will be the name for such a creature -- is just a logical extension" [source: Berkowitz].

Interested to know what else is in store for future dwellers? Read the original HowStuffWorks article here:

Source: How Stuff Works Article by Patrick Kiger

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